Finding Strength to Forgive
I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13
I breathed in before jumping off the boat into the November waters of the San Francisco bay, trying to keep my head above the surface as my feet sank in the miry clay. My Dad had run aground again. My sister Lisa and I rolled our eyes at each other as we stood together in chest deep water, pushing on the hull of the bow, bit by bit, loosening the boat from the clay. As we climbed back on the boat, shivering, all I could think was, Why isn’t she here?
Children have a blissful way of seeing their parents through a single dimension. Their parents take care of them, provide for them, and meet their needs. It’s very much an egocentric focus for a child. Anyone who knew my Mom would say she was an outspoken and resilient woman. But I didn’t see that for many years.
As a child, I just knew the heartbreak that she wasn’t with us when we had to jump off the boat to push it out of the frigid water. She wasn’t with us when we sat in the theater lobby, too afraid to watch the rest of Apocalypse Now. She wasn’t with us when we picked up hitchhikers while driving our convertible up Pacific Coast Highway.
It’s strange when one of your parents seems absent from your life growing up, even though you all live under the same roof.
So many of my earliest memories don’t include my Mom, and for much of my childhood, she seemed emotionally unavailable and physically absent. As a child, I felt like she didn’t want to be around us. There are things I understand better about this now as an adult, but as a child, this was heartbreaking to me.
These habits of disconnect continued through my young adulthood. When I delivered her first grandchild at 30, she announced that the grandchildren could call her Ruth, because that was her name. She finally resigned to being called Grandma, but she was far from the average grandma. She challenged my kids, made them cry sometimes, and never apologized. She was overly critical of how I parented, so almost every trip to visit her inevitably ended with me crying in the car all the way home.
For years, I tried to see life through her eyes, to understand her, to grasp her perspective of the world, but she was a closed book. And all I longed for was her approval and acceptance.
Distance made our relationship manageable, but there was so much unforgiveness.
I became a believer in Christ when I started college and knew I was called to forgive. I tried over and over, but I could never quite grasp how to let these hurts go. I tried so many times, only to have bitterness, anger, and resentment resurface like an unwanted sickness. I just couldn’t seem to figure it out.
I continued to seek the Lord to heal our relationship.
When she wanted to start going to Bible study, but was too nervous to join one at her local church, I offered to do a Bible study with her over the phone. Together, in two different cities, we studied the Word, learning about God’s love, faithfulness, and gentleness. God’s goodness and His process of sanctification strengthened my heart.
He taught me about grace in a deep way that took me on a journey from childhood heartbreak to the beauty of His strength showing up in my relationship with my Mom.
God blessed us with being able to work through 11 Bible studies together. When she needed assistance, God’s strength helped me to show up for her even though it felt like she hadn’t been there for me. God’s love led me to move toward her emotionally, even if there was strain, because I knew God was working things out in both of our lives.
As she neared 80, and her health became more fragile, I felt God calling me to invite her to live with my family in Houston. My husband agreed and lovingly welcomed her into our home. When she moved in and continued to create friction, I realized for the first time in my life that she was simply a woman in need of a Savior, just like me. Even though she knew Jesus from an early age, she still struggled like many of us do.
God gave me the strength to see her through His eyes.
God helped me understand that she was made in the image of God, just like me. And He completely transformed my vision. I could see God in her, even if she wasn’t behaving perfectly, even if she was stumbling, even if she was difficult. I could see His image in her. And this single awareness gave me the strength for real forgiveness, real healing, and real love. Without a word, brokenness was healed and there was real peace in our home.
A few months later, my Mom was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and as she prepared to meet Jesus, we loved each other. God was in our home with us and there was beauty all around even though there was incredible suffering. She died 4 months later.
God, in His tenderhearted graciousness, taught me to forgive before she got sick, and for that I am forever grateful.
Nicole Williams is a writer and poet who loves spice shops, travel, throwing great parties, curling up in Soma pajamas, and a strong cup of black coffee with NY cheesecake! Her passion is influencing people to read the Bible for themselves and her mantra is Love + Mercy Matter Most. She’s the author of RISE UP: Believing God When the World is Falling Apart. She’s been married to Lance for 27 years and is mom to two young adults, Hanna and Jack.
If family relationships are tough for you, grab her free guide “Start Tiny: 7 Tips for a Healthier Life.” It’s an essential tool to create biblical and practical habits to heal unforgiveness. Join her free community at https://msnicolewilliams.com to be the first to know when the Forgiveness Course launches and connect with her on Instagram.
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